Autographed player postcard photos for free? How?

Bay Area photographer McWilliams
found many clients on the Oakland roster.


Once, teams like the St. Louis Cardinals provided all their players with postcard-sized photos to send.

I learned from baseball address pioneer Jack Smalling that he figured one out of seven requests of “if you have a photo of yourself you’d be willing to include for my collection, I’d be grateful” paid off.

And asking is free.

However, players were once so eager to please the public that they’d order their own postcard photos, footing the bill on their own.

Some of the last great independent postcards came in the 1970s from Doug McWilliams. He’d get hired by individual players who wanted to have photos to share with fans and collectors.
Where were these sold? Nowhere!
You had one place to get the postcards. From the depicted guy. You had to be given one.

A generation later, many retirees exhausted their postcard supply. You’ll see some thrifty former players photocopying their remaining postcard to send.

The postcards are great stories in themselves. Find a checklist online for postcards like J.D. McCarthy or McWilliams. Ask in your letter about the postcard’s history. If you can print out a black and white scan of the card (some will appear on eBay), do it. Even if you don’t get the postcard, you could get a great story.

Speaking of stories, Mr. McWilliams has one. You’d be surprised to know how many Topps cards came from his lens. His photo archive has been donated to the Hall of Fame. And he even did postcards once for ballplayer-turned-Country Western star Charley Pride. 

Handwritten Versus Typed Letters

I was ready to switch.

Wanting to break my TTM slump, I thought about going to ALL handwritten letters.

I haven’t yet.

Why? I think it depends on who’s getting your letter. Is it someone with bad eyesight who’ll wince at my penmanship? The late Bob Will, a Cub who became a bank executive, said that typed letters were easier to read.

However, reluctant signers might suspect that you know the magic powers of a computer. To them, the lack of handwriting signifies that you’re running a 24/7 operation, mass-producing autograph requests. In fact, whether it’s a current or former player, someone who’s never typed might think you’re being lazy and impersonal by bypassing handwritten correspondence.

The only fact I’m convinced of is this: write the envelope by hand. I seem to remember from years ago that Jack Smalling tried offering pre-addressed labels from his baseball address list for a fee. I liked the temptation of speed, but knew the impression wouldn’t be favorable.

A hand-addressed envelope is a good first impression. Once the envelope is opened, you’ve got a real chance, even if you used crayon.

Readers: do you use handwritten or typed? Why?

Once Upon A Time, Free Signed Photos Came With Many TTM Autograph Replies

Everyone seemed to get
this extra when writing
to the great Yankee skipper!

During the 1980s, I profiled baseball address pioneer Jack Smalling for Baseball Cards magazine.

In the article, he mentioned that an average of one of out seven autograph signers would include an extra photo in their by-mail response. Often, these were team-issued, postcard-sized photos.
Bob Feller once told me that the Hall of Fame would send bundles of the gold plaque postcards for member use.

Yes, the percentages may be more steep today. You’ll never know if you don’t try. Keep this in mind when writing to former players.

How? Consider adding a one-sentence request: “If you have a photo of yourself that you would share for my collection, I’d be doubly grateful.”

Asking is free!

Sunday, April 24: A review of the book Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil.

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